Dams · Western Ghats · Wetlands

Remembering Wetlands on World Environment Day

Above: Wetlands in Western Ghats Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

On this World Environment Day, a number of images leap to mind from the past year: Prime Minister of India performing the famous Ganga Arati after elections to new species of fish and frogs discovered (again) from Western Ghats. From TSR Subramaniam justifying his Committee Report which seeks to disintegrate the environmental governance of the country to Jadav Payang, single-handedly planting thousands of trees in Assam.  From the filthy Yamuna flowing through the national capital to the unseasonal rains that damaged crops of millions of farmers. Continue reading “Remembering Wetlands on World Environment Day”

India Rivers Week · Western Ghats

Dr. Latha Anantha, CPSS and River Research Centre: For the rivers to flow..

Above: Latha with her friends at Athirappilly Falls. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

It is difficult for me to write impersonally about the work of Bhagirath Prayas Samman recipient Dr. Latha Anantha. She is Latha Chechi to me, a close friend and more of a sister. The bond is based on water and rivers, possibly stronger than blood. This is only an attempt to introduce the readers to the exemplary work of Latha Chechi (and that of the River Research Centre and Chalakudy Puza Samarakshan Samithi team) as the recipient of the first Bhagirath Prayas Samman for “exemplary capacity for combining sound research with the mobilization of community, political and state agencies, and for ushering in a unique methodology of consensus- based conservation of rivers in the country’”.

Latha Anantha award

Ravi receiving Bhagirath Prayas Samman Award on behalf of Dr. Latha, from Justice Madan Lokur
Ravi from CPSS receiving Bhagirath Prayas Samman Award on behalf of Dr. Latha, from Justice Madan Lokur

Latha is an agricultural scientist by education and holds a doctorate in the subject. But how did she start working with rivers? In 1989, Latha was a part of a nature camp which took her and many like her into the Silent Valley National Forest. Then, Silent Valley National Forest was declared as a protected area only 4 years back after protracted, and possibly one of India’s foremost anti-destructive dam struggle, led by people. (A fascinating account here )

It was here that, under the guidance of Dr. Sathish Chandran Nair, Latha saw that while forests of Silent Valley are the birth place of beautiful river Kunti, Attapadi region was devoid of forests and most streams were dried up. The Bhavani river was hardly flowing there. The contrast was self revealing. It was here that the connections between forests and water and rivers and tribals and wildlife were forged. She says she was a changed person after witnessing all this.

In 1995, Latha married Unnikrishnan, also an ardent river lover and activist (and a poet!) and together they conducted several nature camps for children and young adults all over Kerala, always coming back to the Chalakudy River and her thick forests near Vazachal and around. By then, she had made friends not only with the river, but with the Kadar tribes who lived with the Chalakudy, on her banks, one amongst them was young Geeta. The learning and exploring continued for a few years, until in 1998 they heard that a dam project on Chalakudy, the Athirappilly dam, had received sanctions from Delhi. They were shell shocked. Back in 1998, this couple and their friends like Ravi, in a remote part of Kerala knew nothing of EIA Notification, sad monotony of sham EIAs, compromised EIA agents, project-friendly meetings at MoEF, nothing. But they persevered.

Latha Unni

Helped by stalwarts like Dr. V.S Vijayan, Dr. Sathish Chandran Nair, this tenacious group slowly put the jigsaw puzzle together, piece by piece. They understood the EIA Notification of 1994, got hold of the EIA and saw how the Kadar tribe, living just by the river was not even mentioned. They say how the fact that Chalakudy was already dammed six times before it comes to Athirappilly and how 35% of its flows are already diverted was hidden from the EIA. .Kadar tribal settlement was mentioned incorrectly outside the project impact area. Latha by then also realized that the mandatory public hearing was also not conducted for this project.

Now there was no stopping this group, which also included hydrologist Madhusoodan and botanist K Amitha Bachan. Ravi and Unni filed a case in Kerala High Court in 2001, challenging the EC granted to Athirappilly and Latha & team did all the research, putting together a water-tight case. The court ruled in favor and asked for a fresh public hearing.

Latha and friends already had strong ties in the Chalakudy region. This was not a single day affair, but a trusted relation built over years. The tribals knew this team’s love for them and their river. They listened and they discussed. They were aghast at the dam building plans. The public hearing saw overwhelming participation not only from the tribal communities, but from scientists, shop keepers, hotel owners, farmers, gram panchayat members, etc. The District Collector witnessed this and would not push the project until a river basin study was done, possibly the first such in India.

Public Hearing of Athirappilly Project
Public Hearing of Athirappilly Project

There was a lull in the meantime, giving a false sense of security for these Chalakudy lovers. But it also gave them time to get introduced and work with friends like Himanshu Thakkar from South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People (SANDRP), Shripad Dharmadhikary from Manthan with whom they had been in touch for long, supporters like Dr. Ramaswmay Iyer, etc. Through SANDRP, in 1998 itself, the group had made submission to the World Commission on Dams opposing the Athirapally project. The CPSS, in collaboration with SANDRP, organized a meeting on the report of the World Commission on Dams at Thrissur on June 22-23, 2002.  A meeting against Interlinking of Rivers in Kerala was organized by CPSS and SANDRP on July 12-13, 2003. A book “Tragedy of Commons: The Kerala Experience in River Linking” was published in 2004 by River Research Centre & SANDRP.

Shripad Dharmadhikary at Vazachal rapids, also threatened by the Athirappilly project Photo: Himanshu Thakkar
Shripad Dharmadhikary at Charpa Falls, also threatened by the Athirappilly project

But Athirappilly dam plan put up its head again in February 2005 when the project gained Environmental Clearance through back door from the MoEF. This time the EC was challenged by none other than the young Geeta, the Kadar woman, living on the banks of the Chalakudy who filed a PIL in the High Court of Kerala in April 2005 challenging the new Clearance granted to the project. The Athirappilly Gram Panchayat President also filed a PIL on EIA violations. The High court again upheld the plea and ordered for a public hearing afresh! This public hearing in 2006 witnessed massive turnout of the tribal community members.

Geeta ji, the petitioner for Athirappilly Project in the backdrop of the falls. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar
Geeta ji, the petitioner for Athirappilly Project in the backdrop of the falls. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

In the meantime, Latha also wrote to Jairam Ramesh to intervene in the issue and Unni and Lathachechi met him personally when he was in Kochi. He issued stop Memo to KSEB on January 4th 2010. After this KSEB again approached MoEF. Once again PIL was filed in HC challenging the EIA in 2007 and is still pending in the HC.

This proposal was again recommended environmental clearance by the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change’s Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) on River Valley Committee in their meeting in May 2007. However, following directions by Kerala High Court to KSEB, the project came back before EAC in March 2010 and was again discussed in April 2010 and July 2010, till when no conclusion could be reached by EAC and EAC had asked for more information and clarifications. There is no mention of the project in any of the minutes of the subsequent EAC meetings[1].

Since then there has been a lull on the plans though it has not died out completely. River Research Centre, though existing since many years back informally, was formally registered as a Trust. RRC, Chalakudy Puzha Samrakshan Samiti and Latha’s dedication is one of the strengths of Athirappilly waterfalls, which would have been dammed and dried long before if it was not for this people-led, nonviolent struggle.

The Athirappilly Falls Photo: Himanshu Thakkar
The Athirappilly Falls

Latha was simultaneously working on campaign against the proposed Pathrakkadave HEP across Kunti River near Silent Valley National Park on several angles such as community mobilisation, EIA, Public hearing, etc. The very destructive dam project has been stalled and the public sentiment and pressure is very big on this project as not to build the dam.

Since early 2000, she has also been involved in education program for children along the banks of the Chalakudy River. RRC and the Schools for Rivers program were instrumental in forming a ‘Kuttikoottam’ (meaning a group of children) of more than 50 children aged between 10-20 years who would set out to know more about their panchayath, its natural resources, human resource potential, culture, folklore, institutions, governance, destruction of environment, problems faced by the river and related livelihoods etc. ( More on it here)

Latha_Geeta RiverSchools

While working on environmental governance and advocacy, CPSS has also worked on novel and promising initiatives like Reservoir Reoperation Model. The project is steered by CPSS and Forum for Policy Dialogue on Water Conflicts in India of which Latha is a Steering Committee member.This model is specifically aimed at dammed rivers, where impacts are supposed to be a way of life. In the much-dammed Chalakudy, RRC, with its dedicated members like Ravi and others demonstrated how operations of a hydropower scheme can be and should be changed to maintain summer irrigation in the downstream and also rudimentary flows for the river. This is far from perfect, but a great step in the direction. At the heart of these processes is joining the dots and bringing people together: from power company, irrigation department, farmers, local self-governments, etc. In April 2013, the CM of Kerala agreed to increase the off peak generation of Poringalkuthu Left Bank Hydro Electric Project. More on this here.

Latha also played an active role in the Save Western Ghats Movement group. In a meeting of this group  Kothagiri in Keystone Campus,  Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh made the announcement of Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel, after relentless advocacy by the group, including Latha. The subsequent Panel under the leadership of Dr. Madav Gadgil and what followed had deeply affected the environmental discourse in India. The way MoEF and government of India hid Gadgil report was a shameful, underlining the unwillingness of the administration to take any visionary or long term actions towards people-led environmental governance. Along with organization like Goa Foundation, RRC was a part of the petition filed in the NGT against this opacity and for implementation of the Gadgil Report. The court ordered the MoeF to bring out the Gadgil report. The din that followed, especially in Kerala, was massive and bewildering.  Gadgil Report was then subsumed to the problematic Kasturirangan Committee, which decision itself was flawed. Powerful interest lobbies, including religious groups, did not miss a single opportunity at misleading locals about eco sensitive areas. If Western Ghats was tense, Kerala was in the eye of the storm. At this juncture, Latha chechi came out and wrote about Kasturirangan Committee report as one of the reason for political polarization for Kerala, and asked for a sane and democratic approach through the Gadgil Report. Latha organised meetings as well as participated in many meetings and debates organised on the subject all over Kerala.

She has also been working endlessly on the issue of eflows, from upcoming as well as existing dams and has engaged consistently with the MoEF on this. Way back in 2009 RRC, along with SANDRP and Svaraj organized the first consultative National Workshop on Eflows. She has also co-authored the first Primer on Environmental flows, aimed not at scientists, but at community groups and activists who are more likely to urge for the implementation of the concept of eflows. (http://www.internationalrivers.org/files/attached-files/eflows_primer_062012.pdf)

While keeping a balanced, soft spoken and people friendly stand she has not shied from criticizing consultants like NIH and CIFRI for their shoddy eflows assessments. She has served on several government appointed committees in Kerala and has been a resource person for countless programs on rivers and forests. She also serves as the South Asia Advisor, International Rivers and is the Ashoka Fellow, 2012.

Latha’s story, intrinsically linked with River Research Centre, CPSS, Chalakudy River and beyond is a story of soft spoken courage. It is a story of bringing people together and looking at a river as a shared heritage, not only as a part of a conflict.

Today, Latha is undergoing a challenging time physically, undergoing several rounds of treatments. But mentally, she is the same strong and sensitive river woman of the Western Ghats.

She is a natural recipient of the Bhagirath Prayas Samman and we look forward to having her back with us soon in her full form:  singing, laughing and loving rivers as she does..

Parineeta Dandekar (parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com)

Near Jog Falls on Sharavati, made dry by the Linganmakki Hydropower Project Photo: Parineeta Dandekar
Near Jog Falls on Sharavati, made dry by the Linganmakki Hydropower Project Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

[1] For details, see: https://sandrp.in/env_governance/EAC_meetings_Decisions_All_India_Apr_2007_to_Dec_2012.pdf

Disasters · Western Ghats

Malin Landslide Tragedy underlines the vulnerability of Western Ghats

In the tragedy at a tiny village of Malin in Ambegaon, Maharashtra, as per reports till now, around 40 houses are under huge debris created by a landslide that occurred early in the morning on the 30th July 2014. The death toll till now is reported to be 44 with 150-300 missing as per different estimates. Unfortunately, the chances of survival of the missing are dim as per the Chief of Rescue operations.

Destruction at Malin Photo by Atul Kumar Kale Local activist
Destruction at Malin Photo by Atul Kumar Kale Local activist
Photo by Atul Kumar Kale
Photo by Atul Kumar Kale

Let us look at some key factors at play here:

VERY HEAVY RAINFALL: This region is nestled in the Northern Western Ghats which receives heavy rainfall in the monsoons. The region was receiving particularly very heavy rainfall in the week between 25th to 31st July. SANDRP had posted an alert on this on SANDRP Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/sandrp.in) on the night of 29th July.

Cumulative rainfall in the week as recorded by NASA’s (The National Aeronautics and Space Administration of US) TRMM (Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission, see: http://trmm.gsfc.nasa.gov/publications_dir/instant_2.html) was more than 600 mm, most of it between 29th-30th July. In fact on the 29th July, the region including Malin was shown purple in 24 hr rainfall map, which signifies the highest range of rainfall, exceeding 175 mm.

The region is still experiencing heavy to very heavy rainfall as we write this on Aug 1, 2014.

AccumulatedRainfall

scale

Malin receives very heavy rainfall on the 29th July, 9 pm by NASA TRMM
Malin receives very heavy rainfall on the 29th July, 9 pm by NASA TRMM
Malin receiving high rainfall on the 30th July 2014, 9 pm IST NASA TRMM
Malin receiving high rainfall on the 30th July 2014, 9 pm IST NASA TRMM

It was surprising to read report from Down to Earth about “mere 4 mm rainfall in 24 hours” before the landslide, which is clearly not the case.

With changing climate, frequency of such high intensity rainfall events is predicted to increase, making these areas even more vulnerable to disasters like landslides.

Landslide Warning

Following the very heavy rainfall in the regions around Northern Western Ghats, extending till Gujarat, NASA’s TRMM had also highlighted this region to be strongly landslide prone on the 30thof July.

See NASA TRMM Landslide Prone Area Map on the 30th July 2014 below which highlights Bhimashankar and Malin region:

NASA Landslide potential Map, 6 pm IST on July 30, 2014
NASA Landslide potential Map, 6 pm IST on July 30, 2014

The dam connection:

The Malin village is approximately 1.5 kms from backwaters of the Dimbhe Dam, which is an irrigation project involving a big dam completed in 2000. On the 31st July, the dam held 44% of its live storage, that is about 156 MCM (Million Cubic Meters) of water. The link between water level fluctuations in dams and landslides in the rim of the reservoir and backwaters is well documented. Some geologists have also recorded increased landslides activity in areas surrounding Dimbhe Dam in the past. ( http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/City/Mumbai/More-landslides-likely-in-5km-radius-of-Dimbhe-dam/articleshow/39314716.cms) Even if the dam was not overflowing when the tragedy occurred, it is well known that the dams can induce such landslides around the rim in view of standing water with fluctuating levels, change in drainage pattern and underground water flow pattern.

Google map showing Dimbhe Dam and location of Malin village close to the backwaters
Google map showing Dimbhe Dam and location of Malin village close to the backwaters

Key salient features of Dimbhe dam: Ht: 67.21 m; Lengh: 852 m;  Live Storage Capacity: 354 MCM (www.mahawrd.org); Reservoir Area: 1754.7 ha.

The role played by the dam and its operations on the geology of the region and its possible connection with the landslide needs to be investigated in depth.

Landslides are not entirely new for the region

The region has seen some landslides in the past (e.g. in 2006-7) according to Saili Palande Datar, an ecologist and historian with Kalpavriksh. According to Anand Kapoor of NGO Shashwat active for decades in the region, a landslide had occurred earlier than that, where some cattle were buried and people had to be rescued. In a massive landslide on July 23, 1989, in village Bhaja in Mawal about 60 km from Pune, 39 people were killed.

In the Western Ghats of Pune as well as Maharashtra, a number of landslide-related tragedies have happened. According to a resident of village Tikona Peth in the catchment of Pavana Dam in Mawal tehsil of Pune, a landslide took place in in her village July, 1994 after heavy rains. There were no casualties, four houses were demolished by huge rocks. In August 2004, one person died due to landslide in Male, near Pune, in 2004 again, a worker died due to landslide in work related to a tunnel for a lift irrigation scheme, in June 2005, 4 workers died due to landslide at a tunnel of Ghatghar hydroelectric project.

Role of large scale land modifications in the region

Indeed according to a landslide map developed by Dr. David Petley, International Expert on Hazards and Risks in the Department of Geography at Durham University, the entire region of Western ghats has experienced landslides.

Dr. Petley has also written about the Malin Landslide here: http://blogs.agu.org/landslideblog/2014/07/31/malin-landslide-1/.

Dr. Petley told SANDRP, “Large scale land use modification and deforestation is the issue here”. He further said: “I would hypothesise here that the very heavy rainfall was the trigger, thick weathered soil, the shape of the slope and poor management of development and of water. A proper investigation should be able to ascertain whether this is right, but such large-scale modification of the landscape should be resisted.”

11_08 2011 map
From Dr. David Petley: Landslide events where fatalities have occurred. We can see that Northern Western Ghats also features regularly in the map.

Landscape modifications around Bhimashankar

Bhimashankar region, the origin of river Bhima which is an important tributary of Krishna, is a high rainfall region with spectacular biodiversity. It is also home to Maharashtra’s state animal Malabar Giant Squirrel. The region is home to a vibrant tribal community which has seen several assaults on its way of life through the formation of the sanctuary, displacement caused by Dimbhe & other Dams, recent windmill projects, etc.,

In the recent years, some of the major landscape changes occurring in this region are through mechanised terracing of slopes for cultivation as well as developments related to windmill projects on mountain tops, which entail deforestation as well as road cutting on steep slopes. Although there are no windmill farms in Malin, such farms exist in the neighbouring Khed tehsil. Plans for such farms in Ambegaon are in the pipeline.

It needs to be understood that terracing for cultivation has been a traditional occupation of the tribals in this region, as in most of the Western Ghats. Not only is it an important livelihood support factor, but it has been limited by its scale, location and implementation due to its inherent manual nature. According to Anand Kapoor of Shashwat, tribals themselves do not prefer terraces made by JCBs and other machines as these are not entirely suitable for cultivation.

However, it is also a fact that now some government departments are using heavy machinery like JCBs in their bid to push terracing program. Unscientific mechanized terracing, which comes together with muck dumping, slope instability, affected drainage etc., can play a huge role in magnifying the impacts on a naturally vulnerable, high rainfall region.

In fact, a preliminary report by the Geological Survey of India (GSI) has singled out land flattening and terracing by heavy machinery as one of the primary causes for the tragedy. As per the preliminary report, a team of GSI experts noticed cracks where heavy soil erosion had occurred. The Deputy Director General of GSI has said that these cracks are a result of improper drainage system of rainwater. The flattening of land would have affected the water drainage resulting in the cracks. He says: “The slope of the hill was flattened almost halfway for agricultural purpose to such an extent that the hilltop had become unstable. The experts have also reported excessive deforestation disrupting the ecology of the hill. Added to this was the damage caused by use of heavy machinery over two years.” The Director General and Deputy Director General will be visiting the site on the 2nd and 3rd August for further analysis.

An independent credible review of the way the land levelling activities are going on under government policies and programs should be immediately instituted and till its report is available, use of heavy machines like JCB may be minimised.

Management of the region according to Western Ghats Expert Ecology Panel (WGEEP) Report and High Level Working Group Report (HLWG)

Both reports place Malin in Ecologically Sensitive Zone I and Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) respectively.

An ESZ I tag by the WGEEP report regulates a number of activities in the region, with participation of local communities. The report has specifically mentioned threat of landslides in this region.

While noting the impacts of windmills in the region surrounding Malin, WGEEP notes: “Apart from substantial forest destruction (including Forest Department estimates of about 28,000 trees being cut) via wide roads cutting huge swathes through Reserve Forest, the wind mill project has triggered large scale erosion and landslides through poor construction of roads with steep gradients, and all this rubble is ending up on fertile farmland and in reservoirs of tributaries of the Krishna.

The Forest Department is colluding with wind mill project operators in also illegally denying citizens access to these hills. Boards and check-posts have been put up by the company, falsely claiming to be authorized by the Forest Department. There are many traditional forest dwellers on these hills. Not only are their rights under the Forest Rights Act not being recognized, they are being illegally restrained in their movements on hills they have inhabited for centuries.”

If the WGEEP was accepted by the MoEF and state governments, this would have led to a more people-centred and ecologically-sound management of the Western Ghats region, but Maharashtra has been vehemently opposing WGEEP on the most unjustified grounds and the MoEF too has been busy downplaying the WGEEP.

While HLWG did include Malin village in its list of Ecologically sensitive Areas, however, this ESA tag did not mean much for the region it only regulates mining and red category industries. Most of the development activities that might threaten the region are not regulated by the HLWG. More importantly, HLWG has no role for the local communities in democratic decision making. There is also no mention of this region being landslide-prone in the HLWG, whereas the WGEEP specifically highlights this issue.

It is clear that HLWG is not much help for the region in avoiding tragedies like the Malin tragedy, but WGEEP report certainly would have helped.

Way forward

Northern Western Ghats which are characterized by heavy rainfall, rich biodiversity and predominant tribal population need more sensitive management approach than what it is subjected to right now. Although WGEEP had paved way for a more democratic, equitable and people-centred management of the region, the report was hidden, downplayed and finally rejected by the state as well as the central government. Episodes like Malin highlight the vulnerability and complex inter-linkages that affect the region which require a long term planning vision, integrating a number of components.

Despite this, several ill-conceived projects like townships, windmill farms, large dams and river linking projects like Damanganga-Pinjal and Paar Tapi Narmada are proposed in the region. Close to Bhimashankar region, Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (MMRDA) as well as the Greater Mumbai Municipal Corporation are pushing more than 12 large dams. Some of these dams entail huge tunnels under the mountain ranges of Western Ghats. Despite the several risks and impacts, many of these massive dams may also escape scientific Impact Assessments or public hearings. These projects needs to be opposed and urgently dropped as there is little justification of the projects in view of huge number of options available in the cities for which these dams are proposed.

Similarly, Maharashtra Government has plans to build three huge hydropower dams in the Velhe and Mulshi region, which also falls in the Pune District. Velhe region has already seen slope instability and also falls in Seismic zone IV, making any such development highly risky there.

Let us hope that the heart-breaking tragedy at Malin is a wake-up call for all of us, paving way towards more sensitive,responsive, democratic and sustainable management of the Western Ghats. As a first step, the state and central government need to accept and implement the recommendations of the WGEEP immediately in Malin and for the entire Western Ghats.

-Parineeta Dandekar (parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com)

Western Ghats again highlisgted in Nasa Landslide potential Map for 9 pm ist 310714
Western Ghats again highlighted in Nasa Landslide potential Map for 9 pm IST 310714

End Notes and Further Reading on Developmental Pressures on Western Ghats, specifically related to water:

1. “Damning the Western Ghats”, presentation by SANDRP: https://sandrp.in/rivers/Damming_the_Western_Ghats_Presentation_SWGM_December2012.pdf

2. Interbasin Transfers in Western Ghats of Maharashtra: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/interbasin-diversion-dams-in-western-ghats-unknown-impacts-and-uncertain-benefits/

3. How much does the Kasturirangan Committee report understand about water issues in Western Ghats? https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/04/24/how-much-does-the-kasturirangan-committee-understand-about-water-issues-in-western-ghats/

4. Living Rivers and Dying Rivers of Western Ghats, by SANDRP http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/living-rivers-dying-rivers-rivers-western-ghats-india-lecture-parineeta-dandekar-and

5. Video on Living Rivers and Dying Rivers of Western Ghats, SANDRP https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDsNQejeNeU

6. SANDRP’s report on Dams in Western Ghats for Mumbai: https://sandrp.in/Dams_in_tribal_belt_of_Western_Ghats_for_the_Mumbai_Metropolitan_Region.pdf

7. Water Sector Options for India in a Changing Climate, SANDRP: https://sandrp.in/wtrsect/Water_Sector_Options_India_in_Changing_Climate_0312.pdf

Maharashtra · Ministry of Environment and Forests · NBWL · Western Ghats

Problematic functioning of Maharashtra State Wildlife Board

Maharashtra SBWL The State Board for Wildlife has been formed under the Section 6 of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972) (and its subsequent Amendment in 2002) in all states of the country. The main functions of this Board are conservation and protection of wildlife in Protected areas, selection and appraisal of areas to be declared as sanctuaries, etc. It also appraises proposals which affect Protected areas or buffer zones around Protected areas and only after the recommendation of the State Board for Wildlife (SBWL), is the proposal forwarded to the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife.

In Maharashtra, Chief Minister is the Chairperson of the Board, while chief wildlife warden is the member-secretary. Forest minister is the vice-president of the board and minister of state for forest, FDCM (Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra) managing director, head of forest force (HoFF), field directors of tiger reserves, principal secretary (forest), and principal secretary (tribal development) among others are on the board.

Apart from the government representation, the SBWL also has sizable representation from reputed Wildlife Experts and organizations, some of which have been the members of the SBWL for more than a decade now. Some members include: Sanctuary Asia editor Bittu Sahgal, Bombay Natural History Society’s (BNHS) Dr. Asad Rehmani, Satpuda Foundation’s Kishor Rithe, Bharati Vidyapeeth’s Dr. Erach Bharucha, Executive Director of Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) Belinda Wright, Wildlife expert Anish Andheria, Wildlife Conservation Trust’s (WCT) Hemendra Kothari, Eco-Pro president Bandu Dhotre, MLAs Anandrao Gedam from Armori and Jagdishchandra Valvi, Honorary Wildlife Warden of Pune Anuj Khare etc.

SBWL minutes, Agenda not in public domain Due to some problematic projects considered in the NBWL from Maharashtra, SANDRP tried to access the minutes of the SBWL to understand it’s functioning and decision making. We could not find the minutes in the open domain, the minutes should have been available on the website. Even the agenda and minutes of the National Board for Wildlife which recommends Wildlife Clearance, Expert Appraisal Committee of MoEF which recommends Environmental Clearance or the Forest Advisory Committee which recommends Forest Clearance are available in public domain.

RTI gets no reply We wrote to the Principal Secretary, Revenue and Forests, and PCCF, requesting them to share the minutes but we received no response. We wrote to some members of the SBWL for the minutes, we received no response. ( We could not write to all members as the constitution of the Board and list if members too is not available in the open domain).We contacted the media persons who wrote on SBWL meetings, but they did not have access to minutes. In the meantime, many problematic projects like Gargai Project involving 750 hectares inside the Tansa Sanctuary, Nardawe Irrigation Project, Shirapur Lift Irrigation Scheme, which involved clear violations, were recommended by the SBWL. We wrote about these projects and violations involved to some members, but received no response.

Nardawe Dam is more than 60% complete and has violated EPA (1986), EIA Notification (2006), Forest COnservation Act (1980), FOrest Rights Act (2006) as well as WPA (1972). This project was recommended by the SBWL in its last meeting Photo: SANDRP
Nardawe Dam is more than 60% complete and has violated EPA (1986), EIA Notification (2006), Forest COnservation Act (1980), FOrest Rights Act (2006) as well as WPA (1972). This project was recommended by the SBWL in its last meeting Photo: SANDRP

Finally we filed an RTI for all past agenda items and minutes of the SBWL. We filed this RTI in April 2014 with the Wildlife Department, Nagpur. Again we received no response. When we called the PIO, Wildlife Division, we were told “There are 32 PIOs in the department, How on earth would they know where our application is?”  We talked with the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, but he asked us to file an RTI again as the original application was untraceable at the office. We filed a new application, even this time we did not get a response in the mandated 30 days. To cut the long story sort, we received half of the information we asked for 3 months after the application. In the meantime we were also told by the office that these proposals are considered by NBWL again, so why are you worried?

Of the 8 Meetings of the SBWL conducted, we received agenda notes and minutes for 4 meetings exactly over 4 years: from 4th meeting in 20.02.2009 to the 8th Meeting in 20.02.2014. The decisions of the SBWL in these meetings on WRD projects are compiled in the table at the end of this report.

As we will see below there are many concerns about the way SBWL is functioning.  This is worrisome because the current 33-member committee has ample number of non-government representatives, some noted wild lifers who are passionate about their work. Some of these organisations and individuals have been a part of the SBWL for more than decade now. Although the SBWL is not functioning transparently and accountably, we hear no protest from these members or demands that SBWL needs to function in a transparent way in the open domain. Neither is any dissent minuted in the SBWL meeting minutes.

At the same time, we are aware that some members are trying to fight this situation and have been raising issues, this too gets hidden due to lack of transparency about the functioning of the Board.

Some of the major issues about the functioning of SBWL include:

  • Many projects are cleared despite clear violations.  There is nothing in the minutes to reflect if SBWL members are aware of the ground realities.
  • Decisions taken in an earlier meeting are changed in the next with no explanations given.
  • Contradictory decisions being taken, no consistency in decision making.
  • SBWL Members do not respond to submissions, even if they outline serious issues.
  • Agenda and Minutes not in open domain. Forest Officials do not share these even when requested
  • Minutes of the SBWL meetings have no discussions, only decisions.

SANDRP analyzed agenda items of 4 meetings from 2009 to 2014 which were provided to us under RTI. During this period, the SBWL did seem to be taking some good decisions and initiatives about wildlife conservation. This mainly included declaration of new Protected Areas and some conservation reserves. This is commendable, although here too we see only a few members of the SBWL being active on these proposals.

On the other hand, SBWL’s decision making about sanctioning projects is seriously problematic. As SANDRP deals with issues concerning rivers and dams, we are specifically looking at these examples as illustrated below:

  1. Ignoring clear violations: In the  8th meeting the SBWL (on 20.02.14) recommended:
    • Alewadi Irrigation project in Buldana, 1 km from Melghat Tiger Reserve
    • Ar Kacheri Irrigation project in Buldana, 1 km from Melghat Tiger Reserve
    • Shirapur Lift Irrigation Scheme in Solapur parts of it inside Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary, Solapur
    • Nardawe Irrigation Project, Sindhudurg, 2.5 kms from Radhanagari Sanctuary
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It can be seen that part of Shirapur Lift Irrigation Project was completed back in 2009. The project was considered by SBWL in its Feb 2014 meeting . Photo: SANDRP
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Canals of Shirapur LIS completed and close to Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary Photo: SANDRP

 

Shockingly, ALL of these projects are already under construction when they came before SBWL, in clear violation of WPA (1972) and Supreme Court Orders. Projects are supposed to obtain the Wildlife clearances before even starting survey works and of course before initiating the work. And the fact that no-one raised the issue of these violations seems to indicate that either the members did not know of this ground reality or they chose to ignore it.

In this case, all of the projects are in violation of the WPA and should undergo necessary punitive action. But what we see in the minutes is that all these projects are recommended for clearance!  This indicates the serious issues with the SBWL. When the same projects were considered for Environmental Clearance by the EAC of the MoEF, this committee did not clear these projects and passed strictures against GOM for violations. Note that this was BEFORE these projects were considered by the SBWL.

In April 2014, SANDRP sent an email to some members[1] of the SBWL as well as the Chief Minster, Principal Secretary and PCCF, drawing their attention to the violations, strictures passed on these projects by MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects[2], requesting the SBWL to take back their recommendation of clearance to these violating projects. But we have received no response till now.

  1. Hugely Contradictory Decisions:
  • While considering the Tambadi Irrigation Project in Roha, Raigad (Buffer Zone of Phansad Sanctuary) in the 7th SBWL Meeting on 24.1.13, the SBWL passed strict comments on the Water Resources Department , Maharashtra (WRD), stating that:

“All members were of the opinion that no proposal of Irrigation Department should be recommended as the department did not comply with the instructions about mitigation measures which should be taken up like construction of over passes and steps in canals within wildlife corridors. It was reiterated by the Board that unless required action is taken, no proposal would be considered by the board.”

Please note this is the part of the APPROVED minutes circulated to the members on the 7th March 2013. Reading this, anyone would get an impression that all further projects from WRD would not be considered. Shockingly, Action Taken Report for the same project attached to the Agenda of the 8th Meeting (20.02.14) states that: “As decided in the 7th meeting a committee comprising 4 members has been constituted to study this and….it came out with possible mitigation measures.”

Firstly, approved minutes do not reflect this decision and secondly, the approved minutes had taken a completely opposite stand than what is decided. This indicates serious problems in not only minuting the meetings but also inconsistency in decision-making.

  • Similarly, the committee considered diversion proposal of Savarde Irrigaton project in its 5th Meeting on the 28.06.11.

Dr Asad Rahmani after conducting a Site visit to the project recommended several strong conditions for the project which included:

  • Cumulative impact assessment of major and medium projects on Radhanagari Wildlife Sanactuary,
  • Permission from Western Ghats Expert appraisal Panel headed by Prof Gadgil and
  • WRD to give in writing that no new project impinging directly or indirectly or Radhanagari Sanctuary will be taken up.

WRD provided no responses on this.

When the proposal was discussed for the third time in NBWL on the 24th April 2011, the CCF told the NBWL that Maharashtra Government agreed with ALL conditions raised by Dr. Rahmani, except the one on sharing water[3]. The WRD had still not provided any response.

This indicates that the Maharashtra Government, especially WRD (Water Resources Department) is not bothered about any statutory clearance related processes surrounding its projects and that the GOM (Government of Maharashtra) has agreed that no new WRD projects will be undertake affecting Radhanagari Sanctuary.

Disturbingly, the same SBWL considered Nardawe Irrigation Project in its 8th meeting, which was affecting Radhanagari Sanctuary and also cleared it, without even mentioning its earlier commitment from WRD.

Add to this the fact that Nardawe Irrigation project was an ongoing project which had violated Forest Conservation Act (1980), Environment Protection Act (1986) and EIA notification 2006.

State Level Appraisal Bodies facing problems in Maharashtra Exactly one year back in July 2013, the Chairperson and majority members of the State Expert Appraisal Committee resigned together stating political and industrial pressures as the reasons.[4][5]

When SANDRP talked with some present and past SBWL members, it was clear that there are several serious issues and hindrances in functioning of SBWL. Agenda is not sent even a week before the meeting giving the members no time to understand the projects, in some meetings agenda was put on the table at the time of the meeting. It is significant to note that the  Agenda notes received by SANDRP under RTI do not carry dates.

Many of the meetings are “clearance” meetings where projects are set out, expected to be cleared, like the 8th Meeting before the Lok Sabha Election, which had a number of proposals from WRD, when it was stated by the SBWL itself that it will not consider any further proposal from WRD. Not surprisingly, 4 project considered and recommended by the SBWL in its last meetings were in violation of the WPA (1972) as noted above.

At the same time, some active members on the condition of anonymity stated that many members do not raise voice against problematic projects and it is left only to a few members, who raise issues all the time. Some members are happy being a part of a board which is headed by the CM and attend meetings where CM is present and will not raise issues. Some members and organizations have to be in the good books of the Forest and Environment Departments as well as the politicians.

We have stated upfront that the SBWL has also taken some commendable decisions, like the formation of new protected areas. However there is no denying the fact that functioning of SBWL is seriously problematic, opaque, non-transparent and contradictory.

It is high time that the Forest Officials, bureaucracy, politicians as well as the non-officials members take steps to improve the functioning of SBWL.  Many of their current decisions will not stand legal scrutiny. The SBWL is a regulatory body and its functioning needs to be governed with some ‘rules of business’, rather than be arbitrary. For starters, the SBWL needs to put their agenda notes and minutes in open domain and invite comments on the same, as is being done by several other decision making bodies.

-Parineeta Dandekar (parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com)

~~~~~~~~~

Dam projects considered in the past 4 Maharashtra SBWL Meetings

No Name District PA Affected Decision & issues Meeting
 1. Kukadi Left Bank Caal through GIB Santuary Ahmedanagar- Solapur Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary Recommended 4th20.02.09
 2. Survey & Invstigation for Savarde Irigation Project Kolhapur Radhanagari Wildlife Sanctuary RecommendedMinutes note no new projects of WRD to be considered 5th28.06.11
 3. 400 MW Humbarli Pumped Storage HEP Satara Koyna Sanctuary Recommended 5th28.6.11
 4. Baglinga Irrigation Project Melghat Sanctuary Recommended 6th7.6.12
 5. Survey and investigation Gargai Dam Project 750 hectares inside Tansa Sanctuary Recommended.No discussion of site visit, further studies, etc. 6th7.6.12
 6. Dams at Chena and Yeoor for drinking water of Thane Thane 80 hectares inside Sanjay Gandhi National Park Not recommended.Thane EE gave letter that after Shai, no new drinking water source will be required till 2031 6th7.6.12
 7. Survey & Investigation for dams at Deokhinpada Vasai. Water supply of Vasai Virar Tungareshwar Sanctuary Recommended.CCF refused recommendation, but SBWL recommend clearance for Survey and investigation 6th7.6.12
 8. Tambadi Irrigation Project Roha, Raigad Phansad Sanctuary Initially stated that no project to be considered from WRD, but later suggested mitigation measures for the project 7th24.1.13
 9. Khindsi Feeder Canal Pench Irrigation Project Nagpur Pench Tiger Reserve Recommended after site visit and mitigation measures 7th24.1.13
 10. Raperi Irrigation Project Washim Recommended 7th24.1.13
 11. Naradwe Irrigation Project Sindhudurg Radhanagari Sanctuary Recommendeddespite clear violation and ongoing work. Despite SBWLs decision of not considering projects in Radhanagari WLS 7th24.1.13
 12. KholsapadaIrrigation tank Wasai, Thane Tungareshwar WLS Recommended 8th20.02.14
 13. Patiya Irrigation Project Amravati Melghat Tiger Reserve Recommended 8th20.02.14
 14. Shirapur LIS Solapur Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary Recommended(Clear violation, nearly 75% scheme is complete) 8th20.02.14
 15. Alewadi Irrigation Project Buldana Ambabarva Sanctuary Recommended(Violation: Work has started, MoEF has passed strictures) 8th20.02.14
 16. Ar Kacheri Irrigation Project Buldana Ambabarva Sanctuary Recommended(Violation: Work has started, MoEF has passed strictures) 8th20.02.14

Current Constitution of the Maharashtra SBWL as per the RTI Response from Wildlife Department

Chief Minister

Chairperson
Minister, Forests Vice Chair
State Minister for Forests Member
Anandrao Gedam, MLA, Gadchiroli Member
Jagdishchandra Valvi, MLA, Member
Representative, BNHS (Dr. Asad Rehmani)
Representative from Sahyadri Nisarg Mitra, Chiplun, Ratnagiri Member
Representative from Satpuda Foundation (Dr. Kishor Rithe) Member
Dilip Yardi, Aurangabad Member
Anuj Khare, Pune Member
Devaji Tofa, Mendha Lekha, Gadchiroli Member
Dr. Erach Bharucha, Pune Member
Prakash Amte, Hemlkasa, Gadchiroli Member
Anish Andheria, Mumbai Member
Hemendra Kothari, Wildlife Conservation Trust Member
Ramratan Bhart Bapu Raut Member
Gopal Bodhe, Mumbai Member
Papa Patil, Sangli Member
Bittu Sahgal, Sanctuary Asia Member
Ms. Belinda Wright, WPSI Member
Principal Secy, Forests and Revenue Member
 PCCF Member
Principal Secy, Tribal Development Department Member
Managing Director, MTDC Member
Representative Police, not below the rank of Superintendent Member
Representative from Armed Forces ( not below the rank of Brigadier) Member
Commissioner, Animal Husbandry, GOM Member
Commissioner, Fisheries Development Member
Representative from WII, Dehradun Member
Representative from Botanical Survey of India Member
Representative from Zoological Survey of India Member
Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Nagpur Member Secy
Forest_Gargai_Near-Ogade
Forests inside Tansa Sanctuary which will be submerged if Gargai Dam comes up. The dam has survey and investigation clearance from SBWL Photo: SANDRP

 

Balganga Dam, nearly complete in the buffer zone of Karnala Bird Sanctuary,without any permission from the SBWL or NBWL Photo: SANDRP
Balganga Dam, nearly complete in the buffer zone of Karnala Bird Sanctuary,without any permission from the SBWL or NBWL Photo: SANDRP
Canals of Shirapur Lift Irrigation Scheme, adjacent to Great Indian Bustard WLS. Photo: SANDRP
Canals of Shirapur Lift Irrigation Scheme, adjacent to Great Indian Bustard WLS. Photo: SANDRP

END NOTES:

 

[1] We could not send a letter to all the members as even the information about constitution of the Board and its present members is not available in the open domain.

[2] http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/mumbai/six-green-panel-members-resign-citing-interference/article1-1094262.aspx

 

[1] For details see: https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/04/26/eac-rejects-2-vidc-projects-from-buldhana-for-violations/

[2] http://envfor.nic.in/sites/default/files/NBWL-22-Mom.pdf

[3] http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Scripting/ArticleWin.asp?From=Archive&Source=Page&Skin=TOINEW&BaseHref=TOIPU/2013/07/19&PageLabel=5&EntityId=Ar00501&ViewMode=HTML

Interlinking of RIvers · Maharashtra · Western Ghats

Interbasin Diversion Dams in Western Ghats: Unknown impacts and uncertain Benefits

ManjarpadaBoxDiscussions on Interlinking of Rivers are gaining momentum as new government takes charge at the centre. It is predicted that the new government will be supportive of ecologically and socially questionable plan of interlinking rivers. In this backdrop, it will be interesting to study the fate of a little known scheme of diverting west flowing water to the Godavari Basin in Maharashtra. While the entire ‘grand’ plan includes many such schemes, we are focusing on one of the biggest interbasin diversion project under this scheme. Manjarpada Phase I project which is on a shared basin between Maharashtra and Gujarat, located in the Dindori Taluka of Nashik District. We also look at the status of about 28 interbasin diversion schemes proposed and under construction in this region, their justifications, benefits as well as impacts.

  1. Manjarpada Phase I under Upper Godavari Irrigation Project

Manjarpada Phase I forms part of the Upper Godavari Irrigation Project under the Water Resources Department, Maharashtra. The original proposal of the Upper Godavari Irrigation Project included Dams like Waghad, Karanjvan, Palkhed and Ozarkhed, which received administrative sanction in 1966. Work was started in 1968. From here on a number of components like Punegaon Dam, Tisgaon Dam, several canals kept getting added to the scheme. However, it remained essentially an intra basin project, there was no inter linking rivers component here.

In 2008 a radically different component was added to Upper Godavari Project. This was the inclusion of 12 diversion weirs on Paar, Taar, Damanganga Basin Rivers that in normal course would flow into Gujarat. These weirs envisaged near the ridge line, transferring waters of these into dams built in the Godavari Basin, via deep canals across the Western Ghats, which will transfer water from west flowing rivers to the east flowing Godavari. According to the White Paper on Irrigation Projects brought out by the Water Resources Department of Maharashtra in December 2012, these diversion weirs and Manjarpada Phase I scheme added an irrigation potential of about 30,000 hectares in the Upper Godavari Projects. The total irrigation potential of the entire Upper Godavari projects is estimated as 74,000 hectares (including 30,000 hectares from Diversion projects), of which potential of 69000 hectares is claimed to be created. This is unbelievable as the Diversion weirs, with a total command of 30,000 hectares, are just about half complete. The White Paper states that about 55% work on Manjarpada project and about 60% work on 11 diversion weirs has been completed.

An interbasin transfer scheme that claims a cumulative irrigation potential of 30,000 hectares will have significant impact on ecosystems, communities and downstream hydrology. But no such studies have been conducted for these projects, there has been no public consultation process and it is not even known if there is any interstate agreement for this transfer. The most striking example is Manjarpada Phase I project which envisages transferring about 500 million cubic feet (Mcft) from the Paar basin into Punegaon dam in the Godavari basin by way of a dam and two significantly big tunnels. Officials of Water Resource Department have stated that the project, submerging 95 hectares of land, also needs Forest Clearance for 65 ha forest land, which has not been granted yet, although work is in an advanced stage! This is clearly illegal as per the Forest Conservation Act (1980).

SANDRP’s visit to Manjarapada Phase I Project When we visited the site of Manjarpada project, we were first struck by the name. The project has nothing to do with Manjarpada village, but is entirely based in Devsale Village of Dindori Taluk. Work on the main dam has been stopped for many months now. The villagers say that this is due to local protests, while the officials claim this is due to paucity of funds.

No impact assessment of the project has taken place. When we visited Devsale village, we were mobbed by villagers who wanted to show us the damages caused by the project for which they have received no compensations. The incessant blasting of the tunnel in the hardrock has resulted in cracks to many homes. More than 250 villagers claim that they have lost water from their shallow wells/ bore wells. More than 50 well owners have submitted a memorandum to the Collector and Zilla Parishad office about drying up of their wells.

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Above: Manjarpada Dam wall under construction. Photo: Amit Tillu for SANDRP

The villagers indicate 2 tunnels under construction for the same project, one of which is complete in 1 km length and the other complete in nearly 8 km length, with a huge air vent 20 m wide and over 150 m deep. The depth of the tunnel underground is about 150-300 feet.

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Above: Under construction tunnel at Manjarpada Phase I Photo: Amit Tillu for SANDRP

The laborers employed by the subcontractor do not understand Marathi and cannot respond to questions asked by the villagers. Work on the main dam wall has stopped since the last 2 years. Villagers say that blasting and tunneling has severely affected groundwater in the region, which has fallen drastically after tunneling. Blasting has resulted in not only cracks in over 100 homes, it has led to collapse of more than 10 built open wells, turning them into puddles. This was witnessed by us. Displaced families have not been resettled[1] yet.

Corruption involved in the unfeasible Manjarpada Project: Whistle-blower of the Water Resources Department Vijay Pandhare has been highlighting issues about Manjarpada project since a long time, when he was in service as Chief Engineer at Maharashtra Engineering Training Academy. He had pointed serious irregularities about this project in his letters to the Secretary, Maharashtra Water Resource Department, state Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan as well as separately to Dr. Chitale who was supposed to be investigating the Maharashtra dam scam.

Pandhare talked exclusively with SANDRP on Manjarapada Project, he said: “This project is planned to transfer about 500 million cubic feet of water and is costing about Rs 500 crores and these estimates will increase. It should have costed a fraction of this. The entire process of Manjarapada Phase 1 was driven by the politician and contractor lobby and there was never any space for rational questioning. In addition to Manjarpada Stage I, the department is now also pushing for Manjarpada phase II downstream of this project, which will divert water right into the Tapi Basin. Now the catchment area of Manjarpada Phase I and Phase II actually overlap and the projects are simply unfeasible as there is no water availability as stated in the water availability certificates. This needs to be thoroughly investigated and I had written about this to many authorities, in vain.”

Shri. Pandhare is justified in raising these issues. If we look at the internal note of MID, with SANDRP, it states that in 2008 Manjarapada project was approved Rs. 62.54 Crores. Till December 2013, Rs 122.66 Crores were spent on this project! This has resulted in 30% work on spillway, 80% on connecting tunnel, 100% on open canal, 72% on diversion tunnel.

The last line on the project drops a bomb. It states: “An estimate for Third administrative approval for Upper Godavari Project, which includes the cost of this project at Rs 430.74 crores for Manjarpada project, has been presented before the government for approval.” So within 5 years, cost of the project shot up nearly 6 folds!

M3Above: One of the several open wells collapsed due to balsting for Manjarpada project Photo: Amit Tillu for SANDRP

Pandhare writes in his letter to the Secretary and Chief Minister, the letter that initially shook the water management circles in Maharashtra[2]. “The system that makes cost estimates in WRD is has been nearly killed. So the field officer has been made in-charge of working on estimates. In reality the contractor makes these estimates and they are sanctioned without checking. Otherwise such unfeasible and costly work would not be undertaken… In case of Manjrapada project, the cost estimates, especially tunnel excavation costs have been bloated beyond measure. The benefits are hazy. When Phase I is questionable, unfeasible and hugely costly Manjrpada II is being pushed by political backing. This project has a water availability certificate, when in fact the catchment does not have enough water.” He has specifically requested Dr. Chitale to investigate this project.[3]

When we met the Executive Engineer, MI Projects (Local Sector), for Nashik division, he agreed that there is controversy surrounding Manjarpada Projects, especially related to feasibility and overlap of catchment area, but refused to comment further. He softly added that political interference with water resource department should reduce. In the meantime, Chagan Bhujbal, former MP from Nashik region (he lost in 2014 Parliamentary elections by huge margin of close to 2 lakh votes) has been stating that Manjrapada II will happen at any cost.[4]

One of the official stated that Manjarpada project is the ‘Boss’ of these schemes as it will route water from many schemes in the Paar Basin into the Godavari Basin. Though he later added that the main reason for pushing Manjarpada was that the Punegaon Dam, downstream Manjarpada has not been filling up in monsoon and Manjarpada will aid it. This again underlines Pandhare’s claim that water availability certificates being given for projects in Maharashtra (like Punegaon) are not scientific and driven by other motives!

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Above: Villagers at Devsale talking about issues of Manjarpada Project I Photo: Amit Tillu for SANDRP

Incidentally, according to white paper, it’s interesting to see the list of water users downstream of these projects. They include Ranwad sugar factory, K Distillery, Ashokumar Hatcheries, Everest Industries, Seagram Distillery, Shivam chemical, Kadwa Sugar industry, Dinodri MIDC (which is a Wine MIDC in Maharashtra) & have a reservation on 136 MCFt. While Manmad taluka suffered acute water stress in drought in 2012-13, water supply to distilleries and wine industries continued.

This whole episode involving the project, its decision making process, lack of impact assessment and credible techno-economic appraisal and monitoring raises many questions. In the first place, the Manjarpada project highlights the need for thorough participatory processes that should be undertaken before taking up such projects, especially when they involve interbasin transfers.

Maharashtra and Gujarat have signed an MoU to transfer waters from Damanganga River into Vaitarna basin through Bhugad, Khargihill and Pinjal Dams and tunnel systems. The tunnel envisaged between Pinjal and Khargihill stretches over 64 kilometers, more than 5 times the tunnel in Manjarada. It is clear that the impacts of not only the dams, but the tunnel systems will be huge and need investigation.

More than 19 Diversion Projects diverting “unutilized water going waste to the Arabian Sea”

When we met officials at the Minor Irrigation Division (MID), they showed us the map of intricate links planned in the entire Damangagang, Paar, Naar Basin as well as parts of Vaitarna and Ulhas basin to transfer water “flowing unutilized to the Arabian Sea” into the Godavari Basin. It is difficult to imagine that a project of this massive scale, which can transfer nearly 400 MCM from West Flowing basins into the Godavari basin is going on without any project specific impact assessment, cumulative impact assessment, cost benefit studies, environmental appraisal, environment management plan, public consultations, environmental monitoring and based on questionable water availability studies.

The Maharashtra Irrigation Dept GR dated Sept 2005 approved the proposal of diversion schemes near the ridge line to divert water which was “going waste, unutilised into the Arabian Sea” to Godavari Basin in the East. 19 such schemes have received approval from the Hydrology Project (Jal Vgyan Prakalpa) Nashik. Of these 19 schemes, 13 have been included in the second administrative approval of the Upper Godavari Project, but there are in all nearly 28 diversion schemes under consideration. Table in Annexure 1 provides details of the various schemes under this project.

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Above: Diversion Weirs at Dindori, with deep canal on the upstream transferring water Photo: Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP

SANDRP team also visited some of these diversion weirs.

In case of Amboli Diversion Weir, its capacity is supposed to be close to 1 MCM (million cubic meters). It was bone dry in May when SANDRP team visited it. Sagar Marathe, who resides next to the weir states that the weir, now complete, hardly holds any water in it. The reason seems obvious. Just 200-300 mts upstream the dam wall, a high canal embankment runs, which means that the dam has nearly no catchment area! There is no study on the amount of water that is indeed diverted into Kashyapi River here, a tributary of Godavari.

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Above: Dam wall and the dry Amoboli Diversion Weir reservoir can be seen on the left, on the right is a tall embankment of an older canal which runs parallel to the dam wall and is much longer. Effectively, the dam has nearly no catchment. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

In case of Waghera diversion weir, which is supposed to be under construction, the tribal villagers told SANDRP that the mud dam has been existing since the past 20-25 years and the only work going on is digging the canals! But the MID note does not state that the dam is already existing, possibly indicating an irregularity.

These examples are only indicative. They highlight the need for transparent and participatory studies surrounding these projects.

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Above: Unlined canal in Dindori, transferring water onto Waghad Dam. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP

Environment laws violated, but MoEF in dark and inactive! Manjarpada Diversion and other diversion dam projects are coming up in violation of the EIA Notification 2006, but MoEF seems to know nothing about it. Manjarpada or other diversion schemes cannot claim exclusion from the environmental appraisal process since it involves huge irrigation, in addition to inter basin transfer, domestic & industrial water supply.

The entire diversion scheme raises big questions about significant impacts, needs of the downstream population, local opposition and finally questionable and unassessed benefits. We hope MoEF will take cognizance of the legal violations and take stringent steps against Maharashtra government. Unfortunately Maharashtra is mired with too many of such examples, in addition to the dam scam.

– Parineeta Dandekar ( parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com), Amit Tillu ( amittillu@gmail.com) with inputs from Himanshu Thakkar ( ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Annexure 1

Table 1 Overview of Interbasin diversion projects planned to divert water into the Godavari Basin.

Name Basin Basin in which water is transferred Quantity Remark
Manjarpada Diversion Project Nashik Par Godavari: Punegaon and Karanjvan Dams 17.16 MCM
Golshi Mahaji Flow Diversion Project, Dindori Damanganga origin 10 nallahs to be diverted Waghad Dam, Godavari 0.47 MCMto be transferred Current cost around 32 Crores( 12.97 spent, 21.31 requested)
Nanashi Flow Diversion Project, DindoriNashik Nar-Par. Dam at the origin of Par, from here to Hattipada DW, from there to Karanjvan Dam Karanjvan Dam, Godavari 1 MCM into Godavari 0.55 MCM for local use Initial estimate was 3.04 crores in 2008. Actually 3.81 crores spent, Now application for 17.1 crores made for 3rd administrative approval
4. Golshi 1, Flow Diversion Project, Dindori Dindori Damanganga Basin Waghad Dam 3.11 MCM 1.29 crores in 2008.3.15 crores asked in 3rd administrative approval
5. Hatti pada, Flow Diversion Project, Dindori DindoriNashik Paar Basin Karanjvan dam, Godavari Basin 0.93 mcm to Karanjvan Dam. 0.67 mcm for local use 3.11 crores in 2008, 7.64 crores spent till Dec 2013, now requested: 14.24 crores in 3rd approval
6. Dhondalpada Flow Diversion Project NA Godavari basin 1.73 MCM Consists of5 saddle dams
7. Chaphyacha pada Na Godavari 0.30 MCM
Ranpada Diversion project NA Godavari 0.35 MCM
Payarpada Flow Diversion Canal, Dindori Nashik NA Godavari 2.039 MCM Local opposition to Land aquisition. Hence work not started.
Ambaad Diversion canal. Dindori Nashik 0.40 MCM Local opposition to land acquisition. Work not started
Pimpraj F diversion Project NA Godavari 1.26 MCM
Ambegan F Diversion Prjct NA Godavari 1.40 MCM
Jharlipada F Diversion Prct Waghad Dam, Godavari Basin 1.05 MCM
Chimanpada Flow Diversion Project Dindori Godavari 0.83 MCM for diversion; 0.45 MCM for local use, No technical Sanction yet
Waghera Flow Diversion Scheme, TrimbakNashik Damanganga Basin Godavari ( no dam, u/s of Ganga pur Dam) 1.19 MCM Sanctioned cost in 2007 was 15 crores. 80% work complete, Link cut work under progress
Pegal wadi Flow Diversion Project, Trimbak, Nashik Vaitarna Basin Godavari 0.695 MCM In 2004, 17.92 crores approved
Amboli (Bombiltekpada) Godavari 0.92 MCM 17.92 Cr approved in 2004 (an error?)
Total 34.83 MCM
Schemes which do not have administrative approval, but are included in the Upper Godavari Project by the Godavari Irrigation Development Corp.
Velunje-Amboli Dvrsn Prjct Damanganga Godavari 1.447 MCM 16.07 crores estimated
Kalmuste Diversion project Damanganga Godavari 23.141 MCM by a diversion weir 333 Crores estimated price
3. Kapwadi Diversion Project Ulhas Godavari 7.04 MCM Estimated cost 60.8 Cr
Sub Total 31.62 MCM
Projects with survey permissions and administrative approval
Lift dvrsn prjct 3, Surgana Paar Godavari 94.37 MCM
Lift dvrsn prjct 4, Surgana Paar Godavari 89.12 MCM
Sub Total 183.49 MCM
Water Diversion from Upper Vaitarna Basin to Godavari Basin
Note: GOM approved the scheme to fit doors to the saddle dam of Vaitarna project and transfer water into Godavari. However, Thane Circle of KIDC had acquired 4689 hectares of Upper Vaitarna Project. Eventually, Dam height was reduced and 623 hectares was additional land left which should have been returned to the PAPs. But this was not done. There is a strong opposition of local people to any survey without this return. No has been conducted as yet. 28.50 MCM.
6 Diversion projects for Ahmednagar under very primary planning
Hivra Walvani Diversion Weir Pravara 18.46 MCM 13 hectares forest land
Samrand Diversion weir Pravara 17.98 MCM 6 hectares forest land bot fall in PA. Hydrology Project communicated that the project is not supported by the GOM. CE, KIDC has written in 2012 that there is no water to transfer to the east.
Sub Total 36.44 MCM
Transfer water from Shai and Kalu Basins into Akole between Harishchandragad and Ajoba Mountain into Mula basin
Tolarkhind Tunnel Project 18.08 MCM CE, KIDC has written in 2012 that no surplus water available in Shai & Kalu Basins for dvrsion.
Khirehwarer Tunnel Prject 40.01 MCM
Sadada Tunnel Project 11.13 MCM
Pathar Ghat dvrsn canal pr 7.67 MCM
Diverion from Kalu and Shai Basin 76.89 MCM
TOTAL PLANNED DIVERISON FROM WEST TO EAST in Godavari Basin 391.77 MCM

Source: Minor Irrigation Department, Nashik Division

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

END NOTES:

[1] http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/land-lost-to-irrigation-project-tribal-families-reel-in-poverty/

[2] https://sandrp.in/irrigation/Letter_Maharashtra_Irrigation_Scam_Oct12.pdf

[3] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/03/03/vijay-pandhares-letter-to-dr-chitale-please-fix-responsibility-of-the-irregularities/

[4] http://www.deshdoot.com/news.php/news/4313229

Mumbai · Narmada · Western Ghats

Crisis in India’s Urban Water Sector

More than 50 people including tribal groups, social activists, water experts, ecologists and wildlife experts, academics came together for a brainstorming workshop about Dams coming up for Mumbai Region. The meeting was organized by South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, Shramik Mukti Sangathana, and Jalbiradari.

Meeting on Dams round Mumbai Photo: SANDRP
Seetaram Shelar of YUVA at Meeting on Dams round Mumbai Photo: SANDRP

About 12 dams are planned or are under construction to satisfy the increasing thirst of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). All of these dams fall in eco-sensitive region of the Western Ghats. They will together submerge more than 22,000 hectares of land, including nearly 7000 hectares of forests, lakhs of trees and more than 750 hectares of Tansa Sanctuary. They will affect a minimum of 100,000 tribals who depend on the forests and their ancestral lands for livelihoods. These dams include Kalu, Shai, Balganga, Susari, Khargihill, Bhugad, Pinjal, Gargai, Middle Vaitarna, Barvi and Poshir, among others. These are in addition to the dams already constructed for MMR water supply.

Tribals and other affected groups of Thane and Raigad region have been strongly opposing these projects. Most people in Mumbai seem unaware of their struggles or impacts of these projects.

Most of these dams are escaping the social and environmental impact assessments and management plans, environment clearance requirements, environmental monitoring or public consultations due to blunders in environmental impact assessment notification of Sept 2006, which excludes domestic and industrial water supply projects from environmental clearance process. It signifies the environmental illiteracy of the officials and ministers at the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. In spite of repeated letters, and acknowledging that this makes no sense, they have refused to change it.

Local protest against Pinjal Dam near Jawhar which can submereg 11 villages and 2000 hectares fo forests Photo: SANDRP
Local protest against Pinjal Dam near Jawhar which can submereg 11 villages and 2000 hectares of forests Photo: SANDRP

MMR has not done any sort of options assessment before pushing these projects and cursory review show that many options exist. At the city or Region level, there is no shortfall in water supply currently and the existing problems are due to inequitable, non-transparent, non-participatory and wasteful water governance in MMR. Municipal corporations under the MMR which are pushing new dams do not treat even 15% of their sewage. Bhiwandi Nizampur & Vasai Virar Corp do not treat ANY of their sewage. The Mumbai Region has no estimate of its rainwater harvesting potential, and there is little effective action in this direction despite high rainfall. Water supply and distribution losses are over 30%. Local water sources like rivers, lakes and wells are being destroyed by pollution and encroachments. There is no interest in democratizing governance of MMR water sector.

The meeting resolution urged the MMR region to address these issues first, which would lead to sustainable water supply to the city and suburbs. Konkan Irrigation Department which is constructing most of these projects has violated several laws related to tribal and forest rights, environment, forests and resettlement and has been mostly favoring a single contractor, illegally.

The meeting also strongly urged the MMRDA, MCGM, Municipal Corporations of MMR, Maharashtra government, Union Ministry of environment and forests, Maharashtra Forest Department, National Board of Wildlife and all others concerned to ensure that following steps are taken up urgently and in a credible way:

Þ     Undertake thorough options assessment for Mumbai’s (and also for other cities of MMR) water needs which includes groundwater recharge and sustainable use, protect and use local water sources, rainwater harvesting, sewage treatment and reuse, plug leakages, improve water supply efficiency, take up systematic demand side management measures etc.;

Þ     Undertake Environmental and Social impact assessments for all the dams coming up for Mumbai Region;

Þ     Take immediate action against KIDC for violating multiple laws while bulldozing ahead with projects and MMRDA for funding projects in the absence of clearances;

Þ     Respect people’s protests and Gram Sabha resolutions against displacement, deforestation and their refusal to give permission for these projects;

Þ     Take strong penal action against the officers and the contractors who have displaced Adivasis illegally;

Þ     Not resume any work or planning for any project before the above is done, stop work on projects in the meantime;

Þ     Change the EIA notification to ensure that all large dams are included for environment clearance, public hearings and EIA requirements;

Þ     Immediately institute a credible Cumulative Impact Assessment of the projects already constructed and advanced in implementation;

Þ     Institutionalize decentralized, democratic governance of water sector in MMR from bottom to top.

Forests in the Western Ghats are Mumbai’s and MMR’s lungs. They are the watersheds of rivers and water sources like Tansa and Bhatsa and naturally purify Mumbai’s & MMR’s drinking water. Rich tribal culture of Thane and Raigad is a shared heritage of Mumbai and we have no right to displace the tribals or destroy their livelihoods. This destruction in Mumbai’s backyard must be stopped.

Submergence of Gargai Dam Photo: SANDRP
Submergence of Gargai Dam Photo: SANDRP

However, Mumbai and MMR are not the only urban areas guilty of destroying the environment, forests, biodiversity and livelihoods of lakhs of poor people. Delhi, already having more per capita water than European cities like Paris, Amsterdam or Bonn, is asking for Renuka, Lakhwar and Kishau dams in upstream Yamuna basin, while destroying the YamunaRiver for all downstream areas. Ahmedabad is using water from the Sardar Sarovar Narmada dam that was meant for the people of Kutch and Saurashtra and which has led to displacement of over two lakh people. Jaipur is taking water from Bisalpur dam. Farmers for whom it was made are not getting the water and some lost their lives in police firing, while demanding that water. Massive diversion of Nethrawathi water is proposed for Bangalore and other areas, destroying the pristine Western Ghats forests. 3 farmers died in police firing near Pune when a huge farmers rally was protesting against diversion of water from Pawna Dam to the Corporation of Pimpri-Chinchwad.

Headwaters of Netravathi and Gundia threatened by Yettinahole Diversion Photo: Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP
Headwaters of Netravathi and Gundia threatened by Yettinahole Diversion Photo: Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP

As Planning Commission member Dr Mihir Shah recently wrote, the 12th Five Year Plan proposes paradigm shift in Urban sector sector: “Each city must consider, as the first source of supply, its local waterbodies. Therefore, cities must only get funds for water projects, when they have accounted for the water supply from local waterbodies and have protected these waterbodies and their catchments. This precondition will force protection and build the infrastructure, which will supply locally and then take back sewage also locally.”

The trouble with this urban water sector reform agenda is that close to two years into the 12th Plan, we still do not see it being implemented anywhere. We do not see any roadmap for its implementation. And yet the UPA government continues to fund solutions catering to only long distance supply-side measures like big dam projects for urban areas under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission. In fact, of the first Rs 60 000 crores sanctioned for JNNURM, about 70% was for urban water sector, but do we see any progress in democratisation or even improvement of Urban Water Governance?

The hope lies with clean, transparent and participatory governance. Let us hope we see some change in this direction.

Himanshu Thakkar (ht.sandrp@gmail.com), Parineeta Dandekar (parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com), SANDRP

A slightly edited version of this has appeared in Civil Society http://www.civilsocietyonline.com/pages/Details.aspx?480

Maharashtra · Mumbai · Western Ghats

Pathetic state of rehabilitation at the “State-of-the-Art” Middle Vaitarna Dam

Middle Vaitarna Dam across the west flowing Vaitarna River near Mumbai is supposed to be a state-of-the-art technological feat. It’s a 102 meters tall concrete dam, the second tallest in Maharashtra. It was built with an what is claimed to be innovative mix of cement and fly ash from Eklahere Thermal Power Plant. The dam is also claimed to be completed in a record time. Additional Commissioner, Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), Mr. Jalota claims that Middle Vaitarna was completed in 15.5 months out of the total project duration of 42 months.  This speed is supposed to be ninth fastest globally for RCC Dams[i].

Middle Vaitarna Project Photo with thanks from mmmhydropower.blogspot.com
Middle Vaitarna Project Photo with thanks from mmmhydropower.blogspot.com

The project was partly funded by the Jawarharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). When fully functional, the dam will be supplying 455 MLD (Million Liters per Day) water to MCGM (Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai), one of the biggest Municipal Corporations of the world.

So many exceptional performances claimed for one dam!

One would expect the similar concern for efficiency and speed while dealing with rehabilitation and resettlement of project affected population.

The project submerged over 3473 hectares of land (8581 acres land) including over 634 hectares forests (1566 acres forest). It also affected about 8 villages and several adivasi padas in the region. Of these, only 35 families who lost their homes were rehabilitated in a colony near the project site of Kochale village.

A visit to the rehabilitation colony in 2012 and in January 2014 where the project affected families moved in last year reveals:

Extremely poor construction quality. Just one year after families moved in, roofs of one of the houses collapsed. Human injury was narrowly avoided.

Resettlement Colony of the Middle Vaitarna Dam. Photo: Amit Tillu
Resettlement Colony of the Middle Vaitarna Dam. Photo: Amit Tillu

Almost all of the homes are chronically leaking.

There is no drinking water supply to this colony. The main supply tank does not get water. So no taps are working.

Middle Vaitarna Colony Photo: Amit Tillu
Middle Vaitarna Colony Photo: Amit Tillu
  • There is no water in the toilets. Site-in-charge and contractor orders a tanker when they feel like.
  • Common electric connections are defunct: Contractor took away the meters. No electricity at Hospital, Temple and Community Hall.
  • No Doctor has been appointed at the hospital. It’s an empty building.
Middle Vaitarna resettlement colony Photo: Amit Tillu
Middle Vaitarna resettlement colony Photo: Amit Tillu

Completely disillusioned by these houses, many affected people have built separate mud and thatch houses next to the ‘Sarkari’ homes.

Middle Vaitarna Resettlement Colony Photo: Amit Tillu
Middle Vaitarna Resettlement Colony Photo: Amit Tillu

What is the state of other Project affected people?

The affected people from Kochale, Karegaon, Vihigaon have received paltry compensation sums at Rs. 28000 per hectare for cultivated land. This is much lower than per hectare compensation given to the Forest Department for trees lost.

Smr Sangeeta Vare from Kochale village, struggling to get a project affected certificate Photo: Parineeta Dandekar
Smt. Sangeeta Vare from Kochale village, struggling to get a project affected certificate Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

Project affected were told that one member from each affected family will get a government job. Land acquisition for Middle Vaitarna has been done under the article 52 A of the Maharashtra Land Acquisition Act, which includes provisions for ‘Urgent’ land acquisition. Special Land Acquisition officer promised that action will be taken about securing some jobs. After a long follow up, none of the project affected have received jobs. Requests for recommendations for temporary jobs at the dam site have also been denied.

Regarding “Project Affected” Certificate (Government Resolution 21 Jan 1980):  According to the Maharashtra Project Affected Persons Rehabilitation Act 1999, it is the duty of the Collector “to issue a certificate to a person who is nominated by the project affected person for being employed against the quota reserved for the nominees of the affected persons”.

None of the PAs from Middle Vaitarna have received these Certificates, even after repeated and expensive follow up with a number of agencies.

When they contacted the Tahasildar, they were given a list of 12 documents that they have to compile in order to get this Certificate.

These documents include certificates from 4 other officials.

Considering the fact that all the Project affected persons of Middle Vaitarna Project are financially vulnerable tribals, with minimum education and considering that this small number of population is bearing the brunt of displacement and loss of livelihood for a mega city, they could have been helped with in this task.

In the case of Bhatsa Dam near Middle Vaitarna, the same conditions prevails for over 35 years. Project affected have not received full compensation, have not been given project affected certificates or any jobs.

The state of rehabilitation and resettlement for the claimed state of art dam seems dismal to say the least. More than 12 dams are coming up around Mumbai Metropolitan Region for drinking water supply. These will together affect more than one lakh tribals and over 7000 hectares of forest.

(https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/12/20/dams-in-tribal-areas-of-western-ghats-for-water-supply-to-mumbai-why-are-they-unjustified/)

Rehabilitation and resettlement at Middle Vaitarna is a sign of how these issues will be treated in these dams. We hope this is proved wrong.

– Parineeta Dandekar (parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com) and Amit Tillu (amittillu@gmail.com), Nashik

Women fetching water from far off sources even as Middle Vaitarna is close by. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar
Women fetching water from far off sources even as Middle Vaitarna is close by. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar
Ministry of Environment and Forests · Western Ghats

Open Letter to Dr. Veerappa Moily as he supports foundation stone laying of Yettinahole Diversion Project

 January 30, 2014

To,

Dr. M. Veerappa Moily

Union Minister of Environment and Forests

Paryavaran Bhawan, CGO Complex, Lodhi Road,

New Delhi 110 003

vmoily@kar.nic.in

Subject: Issues about the laying of Yettinahole Diversion Project’s foundation Stone

Respected Dr. Moily,

We learnt about your announcement and support for laying the foundation stone of the controversial Yettinahole Diversion Project on January 31, 2014 in your parliamentary constituency of Chikkaballapur, from several media reports[i]. The project has not conducted any impact assessment study and does not have any statutory clearance from your ministry. This is in complete violation of several norms and laws and is shocking, to say the least.

Dr. Moily, our assessments based on local interactions, site visits, study of the Project report (the DPR for the project is still not ready) indicate that the project involves eight dams inside the Western Ghats, deforestation of more than 100 ha of forests inside the Western Ghats eco-sensitive region, water diversion without any ecological studies, 370 MW of power for pumping, a canal of 250 kms length, 1200 ha submergence near Devaranyadurga including submergence of 2 villages and 600 ha forest land. [ii]

The foundation stone laying ceremony is supposed to take place on the 31st January 2014 at Muddenahalli, Chikkaballapur, which also happens to be your current constituency.  It is clear why you chose Chikkaballapur to lay the foundation stone, and not Sakaleshpur, from where the water will be diverted, or Dakshin Kannada, which will face most of the impacts of the project. In Sakaleshpur and entire Dakshin Kannada, (which was your constituency in the past) there is a huge and mounting opposition to Yettinahole Diversion and also to your decision.

Just in the last two weeks, there have been attempts to a stop train in protest, numerous dharnas, hunger strikes, letters in opposition and a Satyagraha in Netravathi River to oppose this project.[iii]

Rail Roko prtest against Yettinahole Diversion Photo: Daiji World
Rail Roko protest against Yettinahole Diversion Photo: Daiji World

Despite this growing discontent, you, as an MP from Chikkaballapur and the Union Environment Minister, or the Karnataka Government did not feel the need to initiate a dialogue with the people of this region. Has the government learnt no lessons from Delhi as to what happens when local voices are ignored and unheeded?

Protest in Hassan (in addition to Dakshin Kannada) against Yettinahole Diversion Photo: The Hindu
Protest in Hassan (in addition to Dakshin Kannada) against Yettinahole Diversion. Photo: The Hindu

Why has the Karnataka Government or the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, which you now head, not thought it necessary to assess and address the serious ecological impacts of this project? Why have you supported the fraudulent tactics of this project to escape environmental clearance?  Our letter to the Ministry in his regard dated 10 Sept 2013, which was endorsed by several experts remains unanswered till date[iv].

As the  Minister of Environment and Forests, it is your duty to see that projects with significant impacts on ecology and dependent communities are assessed. Why are you escaping that duty?

Why is the Karnataka Government and the MoEF, under you leadership, hiding behind weak technical clauses of the EIA Notification 2006 to claim that the project does not qualify for Environment appraisal?

In fact the EIA Notification 2006 requires that there is thorough appraisal of the project. We have sent you a letter in this regard again on the 28th of January 2014, with scanned pages from the project report proving  this.

How can you support foundation stone laying ceremony when RTI reveals that Forest Department has not even assessed the forest area affected by this project?

How can a Minister of Environment and Forests of India indulge in an illegal act of formal initiation of a project that does not have environmental or forest clearances?

The project will come to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, headed by you, for Forest Clearances. But you have supported the foundation stone for this project already, giving a signal that forest clearance is a foregone conclusion.

If this is not conflict of interest, what is?

And all this for 2.8 TMC drinking water for Kolar and Chikkaballpur Districts. Has the government conducted any studies to prove that project with Rs 100 Billion cost and severe environmental impacts is the least-cost option to get drinking water for Kolar and Chikkaballapur in whose name the project is being pushed?

Dr. Moily, as the Union Environment Minister, it is you duty to address these questions before you support the foundation stone laying of Yettinahole Diversion Project.

Not doing so is in violation of environmental norms and legal stipulations.

We are looking forward to getting a point-wise response from you.

Sincerely,

Parineeta Dandekar, Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP, Pune and Delhi

Dr. T. V. Ramchandra, Energy and Wetlands Group, Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Karnataka 

Panduranga Hegde,Parisara Samrakshana Samithi, Appiko Movemenr, Sirsi, Karnataka

Dr. Shrinivas Badigere, Water and Irrigation Expert, Bangalore, Karnataka

Dr. Latha Anantha, River Research Center, Kerala

Dr. Rajeev Raghavan, South Asia Co-Chair, IUCN SSC/WI Freshwater Fish Specialist Group
Member, IUCN SSC Red List Committee 

Debi Goenka on behalf of Conservation Action Trust, Mumbai

Shankar Sharma, Power Policy Analyst, Tirthahalli, Karnataka

R. Sreedhar, Managing Trustee, Environics Trust and Chairpserson, Mines , Minerals and People

Vidyadhar Atkore, Fisheries Researcher, Bangalore, Karnataka

Neethi Mahesh, Mahseer Conservancy, Karnataka

Dr. Ashok Kundapur, Udupi, Karnataka

Anand Krishnamurthy, Bangalore, Karnataka

Dr. Nitya Ghotge, Anthra, Pune

Ms. Nyla Coelho on behalf of  Paryavarni, Belgaum, Karnataka

Pratim Roy on behalf of Keystone Foundation, Kotagiri, Tamilnadu

Dr. Archana Godbole, Jayant Sarnaik, AERF, Pune

Dr. K. Amitha Bachan, Western Ghats Hornbill Foundation

Vijay Sambare, Lok Panchayat, Sangamner, Maharashtra

Dr. Bhaskar Acharya, Independent Researcher, Bangalore

Ramesh Gauns, Environmental Activist, Goa

Ramaswamy Selvam for Tamilnadu organic farmers federation, Arachalur,Erode.

Headwaters of Netravathi and Gundia threatened by Yettinahole Diversion Photo: Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP
Headwaters of Netravathi and Gundia threatened by Yettinahole Diversion Photo: Parineeta Dandekar, SANDRP
Hydropower · Hydropower Performance · Western Ghats

Story of a free-flowing stretch of Kali River in Karnataka

River Kali, before it enters Dandeli in Karnataka is a breathtaking sight..

Its waters are emerald green, flowing steadily. Its banks are thickly forested with a continuous canopy. Endemic species like Malabar Giant Squirrel, Malabar Pied Hornbills, Malabar Gray Hornbills are a common sight here. Down the river, a monitor lizard is stretched across a branch, low over the waters. Fishing eagles and several kinds of Kingfishers look for fish. Fisher folk hover along the banks in beautiful coracles, laying hooks in the riparian vegetation.

During our visit to the Kali, my six-year-old  swam in the river and could not believe that the river back in his home-town was once as clear as this!

Emerald waters of the Kali Photo: Author
Emerald waters of the Kali Photo: Author

It’s hard to imagine that it was a touch-and-go for this stretch of Kali…

If it were not for some brave, timely advocacy and strong local action, most of this stretch would have been submerged. Rest of the river would have been diverted through a tunnel or silenced in a steady pool of a reservoir: the way many Indian rivers are silenced. There would have been no river, no riparian forests and possibly no swimming.

Malabar Pied and Malabar Gray Hornbills on the banks of Kali Photo: Author
Malabar Pied and Malabar Gray Hornbills on the banks of Kali Photo: Author

Dams on Kali: Kali has seen far too much damming. According to Kali Bachao Andolan, a network of organizations working to protect Kali River, more than 5 dams across the river have already submerged 32,000 acres of forests in the Western Ghats. According to Karnataka Power Corporation website, “The west flowing Kalinadi has its origin at an elevation of 900 m, near the DiggiVillage in the Western Ghats of Karnataka. Its 180-km long journey ends at the Arabian Sea near Karwar.”

Kalimap1

After its origin, it’s dammed at Supa in Joida Taluk of the Uttara Kannada District. The submergence of Supa Dam is a site to behold. Stretching endlessly like an ocean, this dam submerged more than 24 villages and hundreds of hectares of forests. One of the dam evictees, an old, frail man now tells me, “Even now in summers, when the waters recede, I can see my village and my temple. We try to go there some times. I can see all my past life there, for a brief period, before it all goes under water again”.

Extensive submergence of the Supa Dam Photo: Author
Extensive submergence of the Supa Dam Photo: Author

genrationKali

Downstream the 101 m-high Supa Dam (100 MW), the river flows down through Dandeli town, taking huge pollution from West Coast Paper Mills on the way. From here it is dammed at Bomanhalli Pick up Dam, from where it is diverted to Nagazhari Powerhouse (870 MW), then to Kodasalli Dam and powerhouse (120 MW) and then at Kadra Dam and powerhouse (150 MW).  If we look at the flow chart of Kali Nadi Dams, the river seems to be flowing from one reservoir into the next, with nearly no free flowing river stretch between two dams. Its main tributaries Kaneri and Tatihalla have been dammed too.[1] The power generation performance of Kali dams for the last 27 years is shown in the graph above.

There is a stretch downstream the Supa dam to Bomanhalli Pick up dam, where the Kali still flows. This again is controlled flow, regulated by the Supa Dam. But this is the precise stretch which was also targeted to be dammed in 2000’s. An 18 MW project by Murudeshwar Power Corporation Limited (MPCL) was proposed to come up at Mavlangi village downstream Supa Dam. According to Kali Bachao Andolan, it would have meant submergence of 210 hectares of land, including 70 hectares of forest land, next to the Dandeli Sanctuary. Kali Bachao Andolan, including Parisar Samrakshana Samiti, Sirsi and Environment Support Group (ESG), Bangalore, highlighted that Uttar Kannada District only needed 17 MW electricity (in 2000) while it was producing more than 1200 MW electricity and one more dam at a huge social and ecological costs cannot be justified. More importantly, ESG exposed that the Rapid EIA (Environment Impact Assessment) report done by reputed consultancy Ernst and Young for the proponent, was in fact a copy-paste of a different EIA, done by a different agency for a different river! A strong campaign was built around this, which garnered public and media support.

Guide from one of the homestay-resorts, a resident of Dandeli Photo: Author
Guide from one of the homestay-resorts, a resident of Dandeli Photo: Author

In 2006, the Forest Advisory Committee of the MoEF rejected Forest Clearance for this project. The project was also strongly opposed internally within the Karnataka Government by the Department of Tourism. Surprisingly, MoEF did not book the EIA agent (Ernst and Young) or the proponent (MPCL) for submitting an entirely false report! Even more shockingly, this EIA was later done by TERI (The Energy Research Institute), which also completed the study in one month and came up with a dubious report based on secondary data. However, strong opposition from local groups, ESG, and even within Karnataka Government resulted in rejection of the proposal by a number of authorities, including the Department of Industries and Collectorate of Uttar Kannada. Since then, the project has tried to raise its head again, only to be opposed strongly.[2]

Fishing along the Kali in the early morning Photo: Author
Fishing along the Kali in the early morning Photo: Author

Around 10 years down the line, what does this small stretch of free flowing river mean?

I traveled in Uttara Kannada as a tourist in November 2013. A thriving tourism industry now exists on the banks of Kali and the river is now world-renowned as one of the best rivers for white-water rafting in India. There is boating, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, fishing along this stretch of the river. Pools and islands in the river provide perfect habitats for various species as well as for naturalists and bird watchers. The range of recreational activities that take place along the river are endless. Fishermen still lay their nets across this stretch and catch some fish (though I was told that fish greatly reduced after Supa Dam was commissioned in 1985). Along the banks of the river in this stretch, a thick riparian forest flourishes, providing habitat and corridor to several species.

But more importantly, this tiny stretch is a reminder of how this great river once was. A humbling reminder.

According to Lal, now a boatman and guide from Dandeli, the river stretch which could have been dammed, now provides tourism related employment to around 1000 people from around the region. The region supports around 8 resorts and several homestays. It has created multiple employment opportunities for locals like naturalists, guides, white-water trainers, etc.  Some of the locals are descendants of the Supa Dam evictees. One of them says, “The relocated colony of Supa evictees is called Ramnagara, actually it is Vanvasanagara. If it were not for the tourism, I would have migrated to Goa or Belgaon.  We saw the fate of Supa dam displaced and would not allow one more dam, no matter how small or big, to affect us again.”

Many ways to enjoy a flowing river: Rafting, canoeing, swimming Photo: Author
Many ways to enjoy a flowing river: Rafting, canoeing, swimming Photo: Author

The struggle against 18 MW mini hydel has been significant in a number of ways. EIA and public hearing for the project were the two events where protests were recorded. It was through these platforms that the extent of the impacts of the projects was known and could be opposed. However, after this, a newer version of EIA Notification was adopted in Sept 2006 which excludes hydel projects below 25 MW from its ambit! This has been a ecologically senseless move as projects which have severe impacts on the ecology do not even need a public hearing and an EIA now! We, and several experts and organizations, have raised this point a number of times with the MoEF, but MoEF is yet to respond.

One more strong point of the struggle was a more than 20-year-old order by Karnataka government categorically stating that since the Kali river is so heavily dammed (five major dams on this short 186 kilometre long river, destroying most of its forests and displacing thousands of tribal and forest dwelling communities), no more dams, big or small, shall be allowed further across this river. This has been a very significant order.

Even today, when more and more bumper to bumper dams in the Himalayas and Western Ghats are killing our rivers, our Ministry of Environment and Forests does not have a clear guideline for protecting certain stretches of rivers from dams or declaring them as no-dam stretches. There exists no such order protecting over-dammed, collapsing rivers.The only report which actually recommended that 24 dams in the Upper Ganga basin should be dropped due to their impact on ecosystems, has not been complied with by the MoEF. Dams are coming up in cascades, without leaving any free-flowing riverine stretch between two projects. Nothing is being done about this. The MoEF’s Expert Appraisal Committee on River Valley Projects now has a weak norm of leaving a bare kilometer of flowing river between projects. But this norm too gets twisted and violated.

Avay Shukla committee appointed by Himachal Pradesh High Court recommended that projects should have at least 5 kilometers of free flowing river between them. But MoEF does not seem to support this. In fact, a flowing river seems to have no value in our governance system.

However, as the Kali experience shows, a flowing river is good for ecology and is good for the people too.

Let us take this opportunity to thank the Kali Bachao Andolan and the local communities for protecting the last remaining free flowing stretch of Kali… so that we can catch a glimpse of how a free-flowing river looks like!

– Parineeta Dandekar

Local children rafting along the Kali Photo: Author
Local children rafting along the Kali Photo: Author